Friday, October 13, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Two [14]


The previous section ended with Johnstone--having wandered off into bizarro-world where charges against genocidal tyrants guilty of mass murdering citizens of their own nations somehow become attacks on those very same nations by the "Great Powers" (Johnstone loves that phrase--I wonder if she knows Metternich is dead)--clarifying her case against the ICTY. "Clarifying" being, in her case, an extremely relative term.

Essentially, she objects to the dubious legal grounds for the ICTY, which was based on a broad interpretation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Fair enough. She also claims that the ICTY was housed in The Hague so that it would deliberately be confused with the ICJ. OK--fine. These are not meritless points; were Johnstone sincerely interested in pursing them, she might have given her book some substance.

But of course, that is not her intention; the dubious mandate of the ICTY and the haphazard nature of international justice is just another tactical diversion on her part. Johnstone is not interested--at all--in constructive suggestions towards the creation of more comprehensive and permanent institution to judge and enforce international justice. She merely wants to rewrite the history of Yugoslavia's bloody collapse on behalf of virulent Serb nationalists.

Up to now, I had wondered whether Johnstone had ever recognized the underlying logic of collective guilt and group identity in her own arguments. Amazingly, in this section she finally confronts the issue of collective guilt--by accusing the ICTY of engaging in promoting it!

"The most enlightened political argument in favor of the Tribunal was that individual repsonsibility needed to be established in order to replace the notion of collective guilt. This laudable ambition has not been realized. By setting out from the very start to build a case against the political leadership of the Serbs and only the Serbs, the notion of collective Serb guilt has been bolstered."

We're back, yet again, to the same rhetorical repeating-loop: There was no genocide in Bosnia, therefore there was no program of systematic ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, therefore the political and military leadership of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs cannot be held accountable for genocide and ethnic cleansing since they did not carry out, or even intend, such a program. She goes on:

"Only Serb political leaders have been indicted for crimes attributed to subordinates, crimes no different in nature from those committed by subordinates of the opposing sides, whose political leaders have not been charged."

Do I really need to point out the obvious? What Serb-majority city was beseiged for four years, subjected to artillery bombardment? Where are the mass graves the Muslims are hiding?

"Rather than individualizing guilt, this has made a powerful contribution toward comforting notions of the collective guilt of the Serbs."

Her logic, while maddenly circular (all the better to fortify against any contrary facts or evidence; I have a mental image of circling wagons) doesn't form the neat trick she thinks it has; even if the ICTY was mistaken in prosecuting Karadzic, Mladic, and Milsevic for genocide, must this be interpreted as an attack on all Serbs? The Germans haven't been ostracized from the world community after Nuremberg, and the Nazi leadership was found guilty. Again, Johnstone delibertately confuses media coverage with specific actions and policies taken by governments and international bodies. Holding a nation's leadership accountable for its actions is not an attack on all its citizens. Then again, Johnstone believes that an attack on Pol Pot is an attack on Cambodia. Since the irony of such a ridiculous notion is lost on her, it's far too much to ask her to comprehend this rather simple point.

Also, why does she describe the notion of the collective guilt of Serbs as being "comforting"? Who, I wonder, took comfort in such a notion? This is rather insulting to the reader's intelligence. And speaking of insulting intelligence, here's the next paragraph:

"ICTY apologists sometimes claim that prosecution of a leader such as Milosevic is necessary to "deter" any future "dictator". It is hard to believe that those who espouse this notion have thought it through."

Once again, her strange use of quotes around words of her own choosing; why is 'deter' in quotes? Is she quoting someone directly? As for putting 'dictator' in quotes, that's much clearer--she considers Milosevic to have been a democratically elected and tolerant leader.

Johnstone, of all people, is accusing others of having not thought through some remarkable claim. Considering that "Diana Johnstone has not thought [fill in the blank] through" could serve as a thesis statement for my review of "Fools' Crusade," this should be fun:

"It assumes that a political leader in a uniquely complex and dramatic situation sees his choice as between being "good" or "bad", and that if he sees a tribunal looming, he will be "good". This infantile notion is suitable for children in a candy shop, where the prospect of "getting caught" can weigh more heavily than the fun of grabbing the goodies. It is totally irrelevant to unforeseeable historic dramas, such as the disintegration of an established country."

Yet another appearance by her favorite strawman--the Hopelessly Naive, Uniformed, Deluded Western Idealist. Johnstone's accusation here is simply ludicrous--whether or not one believes that the threat of being indicted, which would limit travel options and otherwise adversely affect a governments ability to carry on, it is not hard to see the logic of hoping that this is so. Does Johnstone think that the pressure currently being applied to Lukashenko in Belarus is "infantile"?

Sometimes the international community has limited options to intervene in the internal affairs of a nation; often the main limitation is a lack of political will to do so. Credible non-violent threats, such as sanctions, are often used as a way of at least inflicting symbolic pressure on regimes violating norms of civilized behavior. This is the dynamic Johnstone is describing; it is hardly confined to the example of the ICTY.

What is truly infantile is her glib comment equating committing genocide or other crimes against humanity to a child being naughty. Infantile, and offensive.


This section ends with a rousing denunciation of the political nature of the ICTY; she portrays the fact that Karadzic was unable to participate at Dayton as proof that the whole thing was a sham, a way of disabling the Bosnian Serb leadership by criminalizing them. Johnstone, as we have seen, cannot accept the obvious truth: Karadzic and his allies had criminalized themselves.


Owen said...

"It assumes that a political leader in a uniquely complex and dramatic situation sees his choice as between being "good" or "bad", and that if he sees a tribunal looming, he will be "good". This infantile notion is suitable for children in a candy shop, where the prospect of "getting caught" can weigh more heavily than the fun of grabbing the goodies. It is totally irrelevant to unforeseeable historic dramas, such as the disintegration of an established country."

Johnstone appears to suggesting that international law is not something that is meant to be put into effect. She also seems to be suggesting that the rule of law is a meaningless concept once a nation becomes divided against itself.

Kirk Johnson said...

I'm having troubles articulating this, but one key premise of her book--and of Serb nationalist hardliners in general--is a reactionary defense of sovereignty in the face of internatalism. Remember that she links the "demonization of the Serbs" to the forces of globalization. She will not and cannot concede that the individual rights of the citizens of a state can, and should, supercede the sovereignty of the state.

An interesting parallel can be drawn to the notion of "States Rights," a doctrine that has outlived the Confederacy for over a century. I have a feeling that if Johnstone had lived in the 1860's, she would be damning Lincoln for violating the Constitution and demonizing "the South."

She doesn't believe in international justice, I'm sure of it. Her petty legalisms are just a handy tool she uses; she has no interest in articulating a better alternative.

Owen said...

At this point I'm just reminding myself that a certain distinguished authority recognised Johnstone's "outstanding work", and when asked whether he had any regrets about doing so commented "It may be wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work."

Kirk Johnson said...

Funny you should mention him--I'm planning on taking a brief look at some of his work on the subject soon.

Owen said...

Glutton for punishment!

Owen said...

Kirk, yesterday somebody came up to me and asked me if I was Noam Chomsky!

I was at a Stand Up Against Poverty event in Brick Lane (East London) which as well as an MP had some stand-up comics (of variable quality) to keep the troops happy.

The diffident enquirer explained to me that one of the comics had referred to me personally for some reason as Noam Chomsky. I was talking to a friend at the time (as it happens about matters relating to an offshoot of the Living Marxism group) and I completely missed the reference.

I'm trying to figure out if there was any deeper significance in my being addressed in this complimentary way by the stand-up or was he simply suggesting that I hadn't been paying attention to what was going on around me?

Kirk Johnson said...

Wow...weird, weird synchronicity there.